The village on fire that is the Yankees received a helicopter bucket Saturday in the form of their 2-1 victory over the Mets, courtesy of an old-school bottom of the ninth inning that featured a Clint Frazier walk, a Jordy Mercer hit-and-run single and Erik Kratz’s safety squeeze attempt that sure seemed to compel old pal Dellin Betances to unleash a walk-off wild pitch.
Frames like that put the “fun” in “fundamental,” but also in “funky.” If it can stop a seven-game losing streak, it probably can’t drive an extended winning streak, either.
No, what builds winning streaks, championships and dynasties is a core of high-end talent, preferably homegrown. It’s what the Yankees have missed most in this stretch, when their offense has turned limp and their bullpen homer-happy, and what they thought they had most in this era perhaps prematurely knighted as that of the Baby Bombers.
Have we already experienced the best that group has to collectively offer?
This win came with Aaron Judge on the injured list, again, and with Gleyber Torres joining him. With Gary Sanchez on the bench, not emerging to so much as pinch hit, as he’s immersed in a brutal start to this campaign. Luis Severino is rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery, and poor Greg Bird is out of baseball, the Rangers granting his request for a release earlier this month.
It hardly dooms the Yankees, who have exhibited both a knack for unearthing hidden gems and a willingness to spend big on imported talent they find worthy of their riches. Yet the wavering fates of the Baby Bombers makes the team’s title quest harder and, I would argue, less spiritually enriching — especially for the fans of this franchise who kvelled in seeing Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams grow up and ride parade floats together.
Torres, handed the shortstop job as a disappointed Didi Gregorius left for Philadelphia, began this season awful on both sides of the ball before straining his left hamstring and left quad, sidelining him for a while, and really, he’s the least of the concerns given how well he performed his first two years. Judge’s injuries and Sanchez’s performance have turned into multi-year sagas.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, speaking to reporters Saturday shortly before first pitch, said that he expected Judge, who sat for 14 days with a strained right calf, to miss double that time after re-aggravating the injury in his first game back. This marks Judge’s fourth visit to the IL in the past three seasons, and he would’ve begun this year inactive if not for the pandemic shutdown.
The 28-year-old’s talent and ceiling remain sky-high. You can’t qualify for Most Valuable Player awards, however, as Judge did in 2017 as a rookie, if you can’t stay on the field.
That year also marked a triumph for Sanchez, his first full year justifying the hype from his spectacular 2016 cameo if also generating headaches about his defense. Since then, though, Sanchez turned into a human roller coaster, registering an awful 2018 and good-first-half, bad-first-half 2019 under Aaron Boone before generating an unsightly .130/.256/.338 slash line this year. Boone didn’t use Sanchez to pinch hit Saturday despite some obvious opportunities — the manager said he might have called on him had a different situation arisen in the ninth.
“Without question, he’s struggling with the bat,” Cashman said of Sanchez. The general manager cited the bizarre schedule that has made it tough for players to get in a groove as well as possible confidence issues. Cashman concluded: “We are going with Gary Sanchez. He is by far our best option on both sides of the ball and we look forward to him finding his groove sooner than later obviously because we need it, but I still have confidence in [him].”
Gotta keep going with Sanchez for a little while longer, and hope to get Judge back in time for the playoffs. And hey, Frazier has contributed, and here comes Deivi Garcia on Sunday, ready for his major league debut.
That 2017 season felt special, though in a 1995 sort of way. And if ’95 established a standard impossible to match, right now it seems possible that the Baby Bombers era will fall short of enjoying even one parade.